LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA (Mike Newell). 138 minutes. Opens Friday (November 16). Rating: NN
If you can see only one Javier Bardem movie based on a bestselling book this week, make it No Country For Old Men. He's wasted in Love In The Time Of Cholera , an ill-conceived adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez 's epic novel about unrequited love in Colombia.
Bardem plays Florentino Ariza, a merchant who's been smitten with the heavy-lidded Fermina Urbino ( Giovanna Mezzogiorno ) since adolescence. After she marries the town doctor ( Benjamin Bratt ), Florentino beds every woman he can, all the while keeping his heart free for Fernanda for when she's a widow.
What's playful and sensual on the page ends up seeming crass and awkward onscreen. Strange that with the recent breakthrough in Latin filmmaking, two Brit residents - director Mike Newell , writer Ronald Harwood - should get the nod to make the film. They add nothing to the material, and the fact that the film's in variously accented English plays like a bad joke.
The stone-faced Bardem is miscast as the chameleon Florentino - the guy's puppy-dog look seems merely creepy. There's better work on the fringes of the narrative by Fernanda Montenegro ( Central Station ), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full Of Grace) and Bratt, who's an unexpected choice in a key role. The other unorthodox casting decision - the comic John Leguizamo - isn't as lucky.